The history which follows was compiled and written by Neil Matthewson to mark the one hundredth anniversary of Rusper Village Hall in 2009.
For a century the Hall has been a vital centre for village activities and its history deserves to be remembered.
The Hall was created and developed as a result of charitable gifts, careful management by volunteer Hall committees and strong support by residents. It owes relatively little to local or central government help although in more recent times regular grants have been given by Horsham District Council and the Parish Council. This robust independence is part of the tradition of the village.
Reading the records these themes are striking. In addition to generous gifts, very notable are the long periods of service given to the Hall by so many people. Some are mentioned in the text but it would be impossible to list them all.
This memoir is therefore dedicated to all in the village who have given generously of their time and money to the Hall to make it a great and enduring success.
It is not intended to be a detailed history but to give an impression of the Hall’s contribution to village life. It is largely based on the minutes of the Hall’s committees, amplified by the personal recollections of current residents. I would especially like to thank for their help Derek White, who sadly died recently and had been Chairman of the management committee for 19 years, Margaret White, who is still on the management committee and was its Secretary for 14 years, and Neal Osborne who has been Secretary of the committee since 1985. They have read and commented on the manuscript and made many helpful suggestions.
Neal Osborne has pointed out how the Hall’s records reflect the revolution in communications. The minutes were first hand written in exercise books (pretty illegibly in some cases) then moved on to Roneos and finally in his time progressed from a second hand electric typewriter with limited memory to modern word processing and the use of emails.
Of course any errors, omissions and infelicities are mine alone. I know that writing about an institution so important to village life may well attract criticism that the emphasis is wrong or important aspects have been left out. I apologise in advance.
The First Building
On 22 September 1909 Herbert Acton Blake of Pucks Croft granted a 99 year lease, at a nominal rent, of land adjoining the Village School to three trustees. The trustees covenanted to erect “a village hall and miniature rifle range”. It was to be used “under the name of The Rusper Village Hall as a reading room and club and miniature rifle range for the use of men resident in the village or district of Rusper”. The lease goes on to say that the Hall could also be used not only by men but also by their wives, children and friends.
This distinction between the Men’s Club and the use of the Hall for other purposes continued for many years, and from time to time the Club complained that other uses interfered with their activities.
The land leased was a strip 147 feet long and about 20 feet wide and corresponds to the part of the Hall then known as the billiards room (now usually called the snooker room), the small hall and the storeroom. It is not clear from the records who paid for the Hall.
The Hall in the 1920s
On 12 October 1929 Lady Lucy Acton Blake, by then a widow, conveyed the freehold of the “old” village hall to new trustees. Emest Ratcliff Jones and his wife, of Quincefold, conveyed additional land to the new trustees for the sum of £20. This land was to be the site of the extended village hall. The £20 was paid “out of moneys contributed for that purpose” – it is not known by whom.
The large extension to the Hall was generously funded by Mr JHS Holroyd of Rusper House, who was also to play a major part in running the Hall for many years. The extension provided scaling for 150 people, a platform, dressing rooms and a new kitchen and entrance lobby. Minor changes and improvements were made to the old hall. Although there have been many major improvements over the years, the basic structure remains today.
The architects were Unsworth and Goulder. Another of their commissions was Durford Edge, Petersfield in 1923. The house bears a strong resemblance to the Hall: its landscape architect was Gertrude Jekyll.
The Hall after the extensions of 1929
Over the years many improvements have been made and are recorded later. Notable are the new car park in 1978, progressive modernisation of toilet accommodation and renewal of the kitchen.
In the earlier years fund raising events were necessary to pay for major items of maintenance, but more recently a regular cycle of maintenance has been put in place, largely funded out of the Hall’s net income.
THE EARLY YEARS
Unfortunately, no records remain of the very early years. The minutes of the Men’s Club begin in October 1913 with the minutes of the third Annual General Meeting. Captain Acton Blake, who gave the land on which the original Hall was built, resigned from his position as President although he said his interest would remain as keen as ever. The minutes until 1918 were kept in “The Unrivalled Exercise Book”, 72 pages, cost 1d.
There exists a printed copy of the Rules of the Rusper and District Men’s Club which probably applied from the beginning. The Club was open to men over the age of 15. Among the more interesting rules are
- Opening hours: weekdays 6pm to 10 pm in the summer and 5pm to 10 pm in the winter and on Sundays from 2pm to lOpm “except during Church hours”.
- Subscriptions: 5 shillings annually or 6d a month.
- Maintaining order was the responsibility of Committee Members or if none was present “the oldest person in the room”.
- Prohibitions on playing for money, using blasphemous or profane language, playing games on Sundays, playing musical instruments in the reading room on any evening, and “bringing intoxicating liquors into the Club”.
The main occupations appear to have been billiards, skittles, whist and reading. In 1916 it was felt that some of the papers were not being read: ie The Captain, Tit Bits, London Opinion, Weekly Telegraph and the Daily Express. Lady Bell (a Trustee) was asked whether some of them could be discontinued. After that it appears that the papers taken were the Daily Sketch, Pearsons Weekly Answers and the Strand Magazine. The illustrated papers were given to the schoolchildren when the Club was finished with them.
The Club arranged each year a Christmas treat for children and the first recorded was on 16 January 1916. There was a Christmas tree, which was decorated with 3 dozen lustre balls, 17 boxes of a dozen crackers at 9d per box, presents costing in total not more than £5 and each child was given an orange and a bag of sweets when going home. It was agreed that ‘Sunday scholars’ should be invited to the treat.
Other activities took place in the Hall. The Mother’s Union, Girls Friendly and “kindred societies” as well as the Scouts met there.
The village was still quite remote and a centre for village activities was needed. Mrs Rose who had lived in the village since the late 19thcentury writes in the Parish Magazine in 1975 as follows. “In the early 1900s Rusper was a very different village from what it is today. A few horses and traps and farm carts on the roads, until one day we saw a very strange something called a motor car, but it wasn’t very long before we began to see several of them. My first ride was with Miss Mackenzie who used to live at Little Benhams. There were not many houses, no Gardener’s Green or Cook’s Mead, but the School is still the same. One small part of the Village Hall was built about 1909. Some years later it was enlarged by Mr and Mrs Holroyd.”
THE OPENING OF THE NEW VILLAGE HALL
The formal opening took place on Thursday 20 March 1930 at 7.30 pm. Lady Hurst performed the opening ceremony and referred to the generosity of Mr and Mrs Holroyd and other benefactors. Mr Holroyd said that he wanted all “the lads of the village” to join the Men’s Club as soon as they were eligible, although he hoped that the older men would join also. The title deeds were handed to Mr Argent as Principal Trustee.
The ceremony was followed by an entertainment which included songs, instrumental performances on viola and piano, sketches eg “Cheerful and Musical” and dances including a Russian Dance. Tickets were 2d.
Following the opening, the management reviewed all rents and there was some rearrangement. The old platform was disposed of, the old kitchen became the library and the “stuffed animals and birds were to be moved to a suitable place”.
The new billiard table, also presented by Mr Holroyd, was opened on the following day.
THE INTERWAR YEARS
It is clear that after the War it was decided to put the organization of the Hall on to an improved basis. In 1919 Sir Herbert Acton Blake (now knighted) proposed the structure which in essence continues to this day. The Trustees were to have a supervisory role. A Village Hall Committee was established, to be elected at a public meeting and approved by the Trustees, which was to be responsible for all aspects of management of the Hall. The Hall was to be self financing from subscriptions, donations and lettings: a cash flow forecast was produced.
To some extent the Men’s Club had been sidelined and from time to time they protested that activities such as dances prevented them from playing billiards, although compromise solutions were achieved. A suggestion that Club members should be allowed into entertainments at half price was rejected. In 1930 new Rules for the Club were adopted which differed little in substance from the original version.
During this period many of the themes arose which were to recur over the years. Among them were:-
The piano question.
A piano was vital for entertainment such as dances. After a fruitless approach to Captain Broadwood, a piano was purchased elsewhere at a cost of £49.70. For a period this was financed by a loan of £40 from the Women’s Institute at an interest rate of 5% pa. Re tuning and renovation of the piano was a recurrent theme.
The rifle club.
No mention of this was made in the early years, but in 1922 revival of the club was suggested. It was thought that it would be greatly to the advantage of Scouts to use the range “for shooting drilling and other purposes”. It was pointed out that the range was currently used for skittles and that the adjoining room was used as a class room. No progress seems to have occurred and in 1924 it was reported that “the rifles had been confiscated by the police and destroyed”. The Challenge Cup was returned to the donor.
In 1919 the long association with the school began. The Committee was approached by the West Sussex Education Committee for use of the inner part of the Hall for classes “the main school room being overcrowded and there being no possibility of enlarging the school at the present time”. A rent of £20 pa was agreed.
In 1920 a complaint from “the Inspectress and Teacher of Cooking” was made. It was not possible to get “a good heat in the range”. This was remedied by Mr Ashmore at the Education Committee’s expense. At the same time it was agreed that “a piece of iron sheeting be placed under the Range – at present there is nothing but a small fender to catch the ashes from the fire”.
In 1938 it was agreed that the Hall could be used for physical drill in inclement weather, subject to strict rules about supervision and the proviso that “any damage done to the floor by nails in the boys’ boots” would be paid for by the Education Committee.
A wide variety of activities took place over the years such as whist drives, meetings of the Women’s Institute (who protested without success about the level of fees). In an article in the June 1980 Parish News Mrs Stilwell said that “Rusper Women’s Social Club is probably the oldest club in the village. It was in existence over fifty years ago. It started as a Women’s Institute. During the last war, it changed to the Keep Together Club. After the war it became known as the Rusper Women’s Social Club.” The Club met monthly to hear a talk.
A badminton club was formed and the shuttles caused damage to the central lights which had to be replaced. Dances were also held.
The Rusper Village Players were active in the 1930s under their producer Colonel Ratcliff Jones. The first show seems to have been in December 1930. Subsequently there were performances each year in the early 1930s, including “Wurzel Flummery”, a comedy, and “The Fourth Wall”, a detective story (both by A A Milne) and “Kick In” by Willard Mark. Many well known Rusper people took part. The Rusper Youth Club gave a Variety Concert with Evelyn Underhill at the piano. Choruses included the Banana Boat song and Rock-a-Billy Rock.
The Rusper Ex-Servicemen’s Association was formed about 1924. Fred Brooking and Sid Walls arranged the first meeting in the Village Hall but the Star Inn was always regarded as the HQ and social gatherings were held in its historic upstairs room.
Apart from the usual maintenance, the main change was the installation in 1936 of mains electricity in place of the Kohler generator.
Rusper in the Thirties
In the Parish News of February 1981 there is an evocative article by Eve Seaward and Janet Wise about this period. They say in connection with the Hall: “Because of the lack of transport people mostly worked in Rusper and amused themselves here too. There were dances in the village hall most weeks and the usual whist drives, badminton and so on”.
THE WAR YEARS
Understandably, records are limited during the 1939-45 war. The Hall was used as a canteen for the troops, organized by the Horsham YMCA. In addition to rent, a sum of £150 was paid towards repairs including the piano which had obviously experienced hard use. It was recorded at the end of the war that “Mrs Wickham (the supervisor of the canteen) had received many letters from Canada and elsewhere recalling the happy times they had spent in our village”.
Other adaptations were made for the war. A first aid post was set up and the Education Committee was allowed to use the Hall for lessons every day. Again the nails in the boys’ boots were a concern – “one has only to see the floor of the Council School to know what damage may occur”.
In January 1945 Mrs Tickner resigned as Caretaker for reasons of ill health, having been trying to do so for two years. A gift of £21 in War Savings Certificates was presented to her in recognition of her 14 years service.
The affairs of the Hall now seemed to settle into a more regular regtme.
The activities largely remained the same but there were additions such as the old time dancing club in 1954 and the League of Health and Beauty. In 1953 whist drives were “popular” but dances less well attended. The Young Farmers Club gave plays and contributed generously to the Hall’s funds. In 1952 and 1953 the badminton club won the West Weald League. Numerous events were held. For example, in 1958 there was a Halloween party attended by 100 people where the witch “mixed a fearsome potion” and refreshments had names such as “beetles’ backs and minced toad”. Among the decorations was a broom labeled “nonstop to Gatwitch Airport”. A very successful Christmas party was held in 1959 attended by 150 people.
The Gatwitch – Halloween 1958
Fund raising continued to be a major task. A fete was held on 28thAugust 1948 at Normans by permission of Lady de la Rue who played a major part in organizing it. (The date was postponed by a week because of pony races in Charlwood). Events included Imitation of a Swiss Farmyard, Mr Chester presents his famous white performing poodles, a parade of foxhounds, pony races and Rusper Carthorse Derby ( horses to be shod, 16 hands or over and regularly worked as cart horses within 10 miles radius of Rusper). The show was opened by Derek Roy of Variety Bandbox and was followed by a dance. Proceeds amounted to £385. A fete was also held at Normans on 1 August 1955, attended by an estimated 700 people. Events included a demonstration by bloodhounds and fortune telling.
Attention continued to be paid to improving and maintaining the Hall. In 1954 the boiler was replaced with a coke bo11er. The lavatory accommodation continued to be a major topic: there was an ambiguous complaint about the nuisance of using “the shrubbery” during dances. The toilet (singular) used to be located in part of the current kitchen. After it proved impractical to build new toilets largely with voluntary labour, the new accommodation adjoining the entrance hall was built by a contractor at a cost of £900 in the 1950s.
In 1956 the question of a car park was first raised after complaints from residents of Cooks Mead. The landlord of The Star agreed to the use of his car park until a solution was found.
In 1954 Colonel Ratcliff Jones resigned as Chairman after 27 years and in 1952 Mr Holroyd resigned as Secretary and in 1954 as Treasurer. He had been involved with the running of the Hall since 1924.
The Men’s Club as a separate organization was drawing to a close. Since the beginning it had run active billiards competitions (later to be largely superseded by snooker) and regular whist drives. In the latter years table tennis was a major activity. The Club had always generously supported the Hall with donations and help with functions. In 1955 it was suggested that a mixed club would be desirable with weekly functions such as square dancing but this appears to have come to nothing. In 1958 it was reported that all papers and money had been handed over to the management committee.
During this period the regular round of activity at the Hall continued.
A variety of activities took place. The Hall was used for whist evenings every Thursday night, with Bingo on Fridays. Bingo was run by Mrs Pettifer, Mrs Collins and Mrs Edwards and other ladies; the annual Christmas bingo was a very special event. Dances and Christmas parties were held. In 1967 there was a flourishing nursery school and the Hall was again used for PT by the school. In 1968 a Brownie pack used the Hall for its summer ‘camp’, an activity which was to continue for some years.
The revived Rusper Village Players under Ian Murray and his committee was very active in the 1970s and put on a number of productions.
After some debate it was decided by the Trustees in the late 1960s that alcohol could be allowed and the first mention of a dance with a licensed bar was in 1972. It is understood that Mr Holroyd was a strong teetotaller and his influence had clearly been strong.
The Art Group, which is still very active and has an exhibition each year, was established in 1970. Also in 1970 the annual Flower Show was started and has also been a most successful village event since then. In 1979 it was recorded that the Hall was used overnight by not only the Cubs and Brownies but also by a pilgrimage group and Morris dancers.
In the 1970s and 1980s badminton was a very popular activity and the Rusper Guides and Brownies were regular users of the Hall. The Brownies were started in 1962 and run by Margaret Howes. The Guides were reestablished by Mrs Prideaux in 1958 and run by her and subsequently by Angela Clarke. Rusper first had a Guide Company in 1917, which is remarkable since Guiding itself did not start until 1910. It met in the billiard room at Normans until it closed down in 1927.The Youth Club also met in the Hall.
Activities varied over the years. In the 1980s the Hall was extensively used by Forest Community School for adult education classes. In the 1990s the Christadelphians (who were very helpful with maintenance) were heavy users and the Dog Training Club met regularly. All these uses have now ceased. More recently an active short mat bowls club was established.
The Hall was used extensively to support village celebrations, such as those for the Silver Jubilee in 1977 and the Village festival in 1987, for which there was a dog show, an Art Exhibition, an exhibition of the history ofRusper, stalls and teas.
The Hall was supported by a wide range of fund raising events. In 1960 there was a garden fete at Ghyll Manor which through Lt Col Geoffrey Kitchen’s generosity raised £500 for Hall funds. It was opened by Anna Neagle. Another fete at Ghyll Manor in 1986 raised £1200.
In 1972 a sponsored footpath walk raised £240 and this became a regular feature for some years. Other events included several 50150 auctions. A great deal of hard work was put into them by Derek White and one of them in 1989 raised £850. Open Gardens events, fetes and bring and buy sales were also held.
The improvement to the Hall continued. In 1973 oil heating was installed in place of coke. This was entirely financed by the 1972 footpath walk organized by Margaret White. Sponsored events were then in their infancy; Mrs Edwards was sponsored for £100 by Lady Kitchen. Before the change to oil there was only heating in the main hall on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, when Mr Endicott lit the boiler. Improved heating allowed much greater use of the Hall.
In 1978 the car park was opened after many years of discussion. This was made possible by a generous gift of land for the car park and entrance by Jack and A vocet Phelps of Quincefold. The cost of £6150 was met from Hall funds and grants. Andrew Bain kindly gave free his services as architect and in supervising the work.
In 1987 the roof suffered damage from the Great Hurricane which was repaired out of insurance monies and a grant from Horsham District Council. In 1989 refurbishment of the toilet accommodation was completed at a total cost of £7500, of which half came from the Hall’s funds and the balance equally from Horsham District Council and the Courage Dyer Trust. 1992 saw total refurbishment of the kitchen at a cost of £9000. The same institutions contributed half the cost, with the balance coming from a generous legacy of £3000 from Miss Bunyard (who founded the Art Group), barn dances and Hall funds.
In 1994 Mrs Pettifer, who had been a leading light in the whist club and with Mrs Edwards and Mrs Collins supplied refreshments for many village events, finally felt unable to continue. Sadly, the whist club which had been such an important part of the Hall’s activities closed in 1996 after 50 years.
During the 1990s, the pattern of activities changed. Regular bookings continued but were largely confmed to the Art Club, bowls, and, spasmodically, the Dog Club and the Youth Club. The snooker club, the remaining part of the original Men’s Club, continued to operate successfully. The most important users were the School, who used the Hall more intensively for assemblies, plays and other events, and the Play Group. On the increase were bookings for private parties, especially children’s parties. A dance group was formed and a French club took place.
The long established annual Flower Show and Art Group exhibition continued and each year a Harvest Supper and Christmas Bazaar to raise funds for the Church were held.
The Hall contributed to wider village festivities including the Millennium celebrations and the Jubilee in 2002 and fund raising events for the Church Bells appeal.
The 33rdRusper Flower Show 2003
The Parish Council met regularly at the Hall, which was used for exhibitions and meetings on matters of local interest such as planning proposals and the development of Gatwick Airport.
Financially, the Hall was on a sound footing, as a result of good management and the more formal scheme of cyclical maintenance put in place in 1991. In 1998 a generous donation of £1500 was made by the Village Fete Committee and Miss Gowing Scopes left a large legacy of £14000 in 2002. She had been closely involved with the Hall since 1973 as a representative of various organisations and Chairman of the Management Committee from 1973 to 1987. The Hall also benefited from a windfall on the flotation of the Woolwich Building Society amounting to around £4000
Rusper Art Exhibition 2007
The grey hand of bureaucracy needed to be contended with, including regulation of the provision of food, the Charities Act provisions and the extremely complex Licensing Act 2003.
Improvements in this period included resurfacing and improving the entrance to the car park in 1999 financed by a donation of £5000 from Jack and Avocet Phelps. It was named the Jubilee Car Park because the land was originally given by them in the year of the Queen’s Jubilee. Other improvements included refurbishment of the floor, dimmable lighting, and a new boiler in 2006.
The last part of this period saw the retirement of a number of long standing servants of the Hall. Ken Bowles retired after 15 years as Treasurer (having been recruited to the post by Derek White at Faygate station) and in 2007 Bill Crane retired having spent 8 years as Treasurer and 25 years nursing the boiler. Also in 2007 Derek White felt compelled to resign for reasons of ill health after 19 years as Chairman of the Management Committee. Kathleen Clark, formerly the District Nurse, continues her active support. She is one of the longest serving members of the Management Committee and was for 14 years Bookings Secretary until her retirement from this role in 2008.
The Hall continues to be an important focus of village activities, is on a strong financial footing, and is run by an active Management Committee.